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14 June 2013

'The Piano Teacher' by Janice Y.K. Lee

Evocative. Janice Y.K. Lee has a vivid imagination which she shares with grace and elegance, like her heroines

There is so much sadness and regret in this book.  Doomed love is cliche in many stories but this book makes it immediate and heartbreaking.  What is the antonym to nostalgia?  The two story lines are set more or less ten years apart.  I like that because I can see the direct consequences of actions and betrayals.  As the book speaks of war, greed, envy, racism and lust women become central to the story.  No glorious fighting here; it is the women that are the greatest losers.  The men make a show of power, regret, vengeance or even remorse but it is the women who die in humiliating ways and lose so much more than freedom.  Nothing much has changed in war or in literature but that is another topic.

Books are often driven by dialogue, action or information.  In this book the settings, that is, the houses, weather, perfumes, cocktails and food showed me more than some of the action.  I am a fan of books that invoke so many senses.  The atmosphere surrounded me almost immediately.  The perfumes, smell (pleasant and unpleasant), heat and humidity were present for me.  I think I even heard a mosquito buzz by as I read.  The subsequent contrast between before the war, war and invasion and ten years after the war were striking.  The invasion of Hong Kong by the Japanese stank of death and fear.  Janice Y.K. Lee has a vivid imagination which she shares with grace and elegance, like her heroines.  The story itself lingers in my mind but I am certain it lingers because it is tied to the smell of jasmine.

I caught myself breathing deeply as I read this book.  I tried to catch the scent that she described sometimes.  Books sometimes make me nervous or angry or happy, but they do not often give me a physical reaction.  'Chocolat' did for the same reason this book did.  Scents release memories, suddenly this book I have somehow lived because I can smell it and remember it.  I think women will not prefer this book because it is a story of doomed love but because women often have more sensitive noses.  Go on walk with these heroines through the Hong Kong markets, go have a cocktail at an elegant party and enjoy strange new foods.  Evocative, beautiful book.

Janice Y.K. Lee 
ISBN: 9780007286379 

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